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Global warming, drought: French agriculture facing the challenges of tomorrow

The heatwave that France is currently experiencing is causing unprecedented droughts throughout the country. Météo-France is clear: the month of July 2022 is the driest that France has known since 1958 and the installation of climate probes. The first victim of this generalized aridity: agriculture. The earth is heating up, the soils are dehydrating and the harvests promise to be bad. Corn, wheat, protein peas; not to mention market gardening, foodstuffs in France are suffering from this endless heat wave. Despite this, this cannot be a time for fatalism. If these heat waves were to prove recurrent, French agriculture would have no choice but to adapt; the country’s food sovereignty is at stake. But then what solutions are available to our farmers? They are numerous but one thing is certain: to meet the challenges of global warming, it will necessarily be necessary to get out of a certain ecological dogma tense on the position of “we do not touch the ecosystem”. Details.

Irrigation and storage of rainwater: a pragmatic measure?

It was in November 2021. In Poitou-Charentes, hundreds of “ecological” activists, at the call of the collective “Bassines non merci”, vandalized a gigantic water retention basin installed by agricultural companies. In a few hours, thousands of liters of water intended for irrigation in the event of drought evaporated in nature.

But what are and what are these gigantic basins used for?

The 2nd agricultural union in France, “La coordination rural”, with a certain meaning of the formula, sums up the usefulness of these basins in five words: “water in winter for summer”. The principle is simple and common sense: during periods of heavy rain (autumn and winter), the earth is dug to install gigantic tarpaulins and excess water that has fallen into the groundwater or overflowing from the courtyards is stored there. of water, rivers and streams in particular. It goes without saying that the rainwater that naturally falls into the pits is also preserved. When a scorching summer arrives, in order to avoid soil dehydration, this water is used to irrigate the most needy agricultural areas. Double interest: in addition to preventing the withering of agricultural plants due to heat, the basins make it possible to avoid floods and thus prevent the risk of flooding.

Problem: many green associations oppose it. Their argument: the preservation of ecosystems and a supposed “ capture of resources by a minority “. Thus the collectives “Bassines non merci” or even “Agir pour l’Environnement” are indignant at measures which could, according to them, “challenge the natural water cycle and more generally destabilize entire ecosystems. »

However, France is fortunate to be one of the European countries where the rainfall indices are the most stable. The doctor of physical sciences and water expert Bernard Legube does not say the opposite when he affirms, in November 2021, that “The data on piezo heights, over thirty years, it does not change too much for the moment”. Moreover, the installation of these basins is strictly supervised by the authorities and the pumping can only be carried out when the rainfall reports prove to be excessive.

Collect and then store rainwater in order to be able to irrigate crops; a concrete, pragmatic and realistic measure to contribute to the country’s food sovereignty.

Using GMOs to preserve crops: a proven technique, but scary

The news had the effect of a thunderclap in the scientific world. In 2013, a team of Japanese researchers, by analyzing the genome of rice, discovered the possibility of improving it by making it much more resistant to drought. By favoring a particular gene in rice, scientists have been able to improve the root system of the latter and give it the ability to seek water deeper in the soil and, thus, enjoy better resistance to periods. strong heat.

In the early 2000s, the teams of the French company Limagrain established a new variety of genetically modified maize, reinforced by the addition of a gene from sorghum, an African cereal that is highly resistant to drought. If the studies have not yet been completed, the controversies over GMOs not helping, many research works tend to show that sorghum cereal can be a lasting solution to protect agricultural crops from the effects deleterious to drought.

In France, the acronym “GMO” for “genetically modified organism” is worrying. However, for Michael Shellenberger, best-selling author of the book apocalypse nevera former collaborator at the IPCC and a fervent defender of nuclear power, he cannot be excluded from the solutions and is part of a pragmatic and realistic ecological fight: “if you care about the environment, you should change your outlook on GMOs “. Be that as it may, it is up to our farmers to continue to maintain France in its rank as Europe’s leading agricultural power.

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